Today’s Investigative Special Report – October 29, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “Is Law Enforcement Changing The Manner In Which They Interview Child Sexual Assault Victims?”

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc
Forensic Expert – Senior Author
Over the past three decades there have been a multitude of individuals and organizations which created policies and procedures in how they will conduct interviews of child sexual assault victims. Historically, the theory has been that a child who may have been sexually assaulted should be interviewed as minimal times as possible. The reason for this thinking is the legal process can be intimidating and traumatic to the child. The ideology of conducting one interview of the child never made since then and it doesn’t make sense today.
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
These individuals and groups are now considering changing this policy to allowing alleged child sexual assault victims to be interview two times. This seems insignificant as well, since two or four interviews may not allow the child to fully disclose specifically what transpired between the alleged victim and perpetrator. Each child is unique and there are many reasons it may take several times to interview the child to find out the trauma they have endured.
When interviewing children under the age of nine, their attention span is basically 20 to 30 minutes before they become exhausted from the questioning and begin to shut down. Therefore, interviewing the child multiple times seems reasonable and logical. Experts in this field should not set a number for how many times the child should and can be interviewed. Each child is different and sometimes when they are brought to the interview location they like everyone else may not be in the mood to talk, especially about something that may have allegedly happened to them; something traumatic.
Law enforcement took a back seat decades ago in their role in interviewing children who may have been sexually assaulted. To date there has never been an explanation, research, or studies which demonstrate, suggest, or point to the reason law enforcement officers are not capable of conducting child sexual assault interviews.
Training and education of how to become a competent and intelligent child sexual assault interviewer is available nationwide for child sexual assault interviewers, child protective service workers, law enforcement officers, and etc. If the training and education is available for everyone in the criminal justice system then the reasons for law enforcement failing to be responsible for performing the interviews is not reasonable or logical.
Interview (Photo credit: smiling_da_vinci)
On the West Coast there is one man who is a forensic interviewer, but outside this individual the majority of child sexual assault interviewers are women. The majority of women being interviewers could be an issue in that the child sexual assault industry which promotes woman to be interviewers. However, in the United States there are one million police officers and there are only 12 percent are women. Most of the child sexual assault interviewers are civilians, working for the county prosecutor or private agencies.
The women in law enforcement for the most part are assigned to detective positions as they have the character
istics, traits, flexibility, and skills to deal with a multitude of positions such as VICE, narcotics, special assaults, and etc.
The current foundation of who will interview the alleged child sexual assault victim has seen child advocacy centers developed, established, and built to meet the needs of the community; specifically children who have been sexually assaulted. These advocacy centers have the criminal justice agencies such as law enforcement, child protection services, medical personnel, and child sexual assault interviewers working in the same facility. It is like a one stop facility which allows the child to get to know the team they will be working with during the criminal prosecution and a many other reasons.
Still there has been little to no advocation for men to be child sexual assault interviewers or for law enforcement to take back the role of the child sexual assault interviewer. Law enforcement deals with a diversified population in their specific assignments dealing with children, young adults, and adults. The reason this is important is law enforcement have the basic and advanced training in how to interview everyone who becomes involved in the criminal justice system.
One of the key issues in interviewing child sexual assault victims is the training and education civilian child sexual assault interviewers receive provides a foundation for them to perform the interview. However, where this process falls short is they do not have the necessary police experience to enhance their abilities to perform thorough, complete, intelligent, and competent interviews.
It seems there is this ‘blockade mentality’ that a civilian employee who has no police academy training, patrol experience, investigative experience, basic and advanced interview skills should be the only group not interviewing children. This ‘blockade mentality’ is seen in most jurisdictions where women perform basic and incomplete interviews. There is no sweep of the hand here, but it see
English: A teal ribbon, which is an awareness ...
English: A teal ribbon, which is an awareness ribbon for Ovarian cancer and Sexual assault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ms the child abuse industry has become an arena of women who have set up a process which has eliminated men from participating in an area where the law enforcement officer has the training and education to perform such interviews; but are rarely provided the opportunity to be a child sexual assault interviewer.
In the early 1980s women victim advocates did not want uniformed law enforcement officers interviewing potential child sexual assault victims. The reasons for them not to interview child sexual assault victims that were listed were, (1) the police uniform was frightening to children and (2) the law enforcement officer doesn’t have the experience to perform an interview of a child who may have been sexually assaulted.
These two reasons appear to be ignorant and naïve as law enforcement officers perform the interviews of adult rape victims. The difference between children and adults which is argued by the researchers in the child sexual assault industry is that both, children and adults are as suggestible as each other. Therefore, if law enforcement performed the interview of a child victim then the concern that law enforcement may ask a leading and suggestive question would seem not to be a concern because of this research. The other reasons women victim advocates stated were law enforcement officers don’t want to interview child victims; officers are not sensitive enough; officers may not believe the child; and other reasons.
Over a period of time the law enforcement investigator who is assigned to the specialized unit will become familiar with what facts and evidence support a criminal charge against a perpetrator i.e. someone who sexually assaults a child. Further, if they are familiar with what facts and evidence are needed to criminally charge a perpetrator then they would know what information they would need from the alleged victim. The type of questions and manner in which the questions should be asked is very important and an experienced law enforcement officer who is trained and educated in interviewing child victims, witnesses, and perpetrators know how to conduct the interviews. The interviewing of witnesses no matter what their age, race, or gender is one of the most important aspects of performing their job. Officers expend the majority of their time during their daily tour in talking to all types of people.
Generally, when it comes to civilian child sexual assault interviewers performing the child sexual assault interviews, prior to the interview they are provided the name of the alleged perpetrator by the law enforcement investigator assigned to the case, so they may question the child about the alleged incident.
Center for Sexual Assault Victims
Center for Sexual Assault Victims (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most of the time the child sexual assault interviewer will receive minimal information about the facts of the case from law enforcement investigators. Although the child sexual assault interviewers are trained to obtain the facts i.e. who, what, when, why, where, which, and how, from the alleged child sexual assault victim, important information may be missed due to the lack of knowing the case facts and evidence. If the law enforcement investigator begins the case upon assignment, performs all the interviews, including the child interview, the case should be complete, thorough, intelligent, and competent and ready to be presented to the prosecution for the filing of criminal charges.
A judge and jury want to know what the child has to offer reference what occurred between the child and the alleged perpetrator. When an incompetent and unintelligent interview is performed by a child sexual assault interviewer, the child may have provided minimal information to the interviewer. This may occur because the relevant and material questions were not asked during the child interview. Failure for the child sexual assault interviewer to know and probe the alleged facts and evidence may bring questions from the judge and jury about the child’s credibility, reliability, and veracity.
Most civilian child sexual assault interviewers have little to no experience in testifying in a court of law. Depending on the interviewer the lack of experience may be conveyed to the judge and jury that the interviewer did not follow protocols and procedures when interviewing an alleged child sexual assault victim. Most child interviews are digitally audio and video recorded therefore, it is difficult for the interviewer to have done something unethical, which should enhance the interviewer’s credibility with the judge and jury.
In conclusion, the need for the child sexual assault industry to reevaluate how the child interviews are being conducted should definitely be a major priority if not now, but in the immediate future. The lack of male interviewers and the lack of law enforcement investigators performing child se
xual assault interviews appear to be an antiquated practice and gender bias. These issues need changing to advance the new child sexual assault interview methods and techniques which provide guidelines for how a child sexual assault interview should and needs to be conducted. New protocols, procedures, and processes will bring integrity to a system which constantly needs improvement, creativity, and innovation.

Lawrence W. Daly
Kent, WA

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